The Pew Charitable Trusts, Audubon Alaska, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund sent a letter March 8 to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) asking it to maintain the 2017-22 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. This program, finalized in January 2017, prohibits oil and gas leasing in U.S. Arctic waters until after 2022 and was developed carefully over three years with many opportunities for public comment. The Interior Department’s proposed five-year leasing plan would run from 2019 to 2024.
If BOEM proceeds with developing a new program, the letter asks the department to remove areas that are vital to the health of the larger Arctic marine ecosystem.
Pew and our partners conducted a multiyear study that identified ecologically important and sensitive marine habitats in the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort seas that should be safeguarded from oil and gas leasing while honoring subsistence hunting, fishing, and other uses and access for indigenous peoples. These important marine areas identified in the letter encompass especially diverse and critical environments, support high species richness, host extraordinary productivity, or otherwise sustain the resilience of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem.
The letter also supports the requests of local tribes and communities, the Alaska congressional delegation, and Governor Bill Walker (I) to exclude all BOEM planning areas in the northern Bering Sea from any future oil and gas leasing.